"Cruisin' Alaskan Waters"
Touching down in the far outpost of Sitka, Alaska, I exited the plane and snagged one of the two bags from the conveyor belt. The other bag? The one filled with the most vital items for this new adventure? Missing, perhaps sitting idly in the Juneau or Ketchikan airport.
I had approached Sheldon Jackson College (SJC) in Sitka with a proposal to run a kayak trip for people with diabetes. Kayaking was new to me. Unless an adventure involves swimming or riding camels, I am generally game to give it a go.
I was here to ace the kayak route and plot the coming trip. I would be on the water with Ethan Ring from the Sheldon Jackson Outdoor Center. My goal (other than the already mentioned "swimming"), was to absorb knowledge on the fascinating sport of sea kayaking and plan the trip for a group to take place next summer. Ethan would learn all he could about diabetes (I just had to be my usual diabetes self) and what it would take to run a course for people with diabetes. It was a trial run, or shall we say trial paddle.
We would put our minds together during and after the expedition to organize a quality event.
My Perception Eclipse Kayak sat on the shores of Old Sitka a few days later, aimed at the incoming tide of Sitka Sound. The day before had been a scurried one as we shorted gear, filled out paperwork, purchased groceries, discussed plans, and yes, dumped Dave out of the kayak a few times for practice (and laughs). Thank goodness SJC has a pool, as Sitka Sound is on the frigid side.
I pulled the kayak forward and carefully deposited both legs into the bottom of the boat. I had previously done some "bunny slope" kayaking with someone else in a beast of a boat, on a calm lake. This would be different, way different.
I was quite amazed at all the storage the kayak possessed. I should not have been suprised when Ethan pulled out a huge 12-ounce container of Parmesan Cheese. Don't get me wrong, I love Parmesan Cheese, but living with a "lightweight" backpacking mentality, I was thinking more about throwing a couple packets stolen from Pizza Hut than including a 233-day supply.
Ethan had planned a route with some options depending on weather conditions, fatigue and diabetes management. Our first day would cover about 7 miles, the second woud be either 13 or 18, and the third would encompass 4. Sounds like decent mileage if your a strapped into a pair of running shoes, running or hiking or trails, but paddling? With my legs now useless, tucked into the bow of the kayak and unable to save me, I would rely on muscles that I knew about from anatomy and physiology, but had found little use as an athlete involved in leg-dominant activities.
Immersed in the moment and the stunning beauty of the Alaskan wilds, I got into a good rhythm with a dip of the right paddle, stroke, a dip of the left paddle, stroke. Ethan was an excellent teacher and I was feeling comfortable in my new H2O environment.
Our expedition participants were not just limited to both of us. We had a backdrop that provided lots of wildlife. There were numerous bald eagles, along with porpoises, seals, salmon, ravens, crows, cormorants, Sitka black-tailed deer and an occassional load of bear sign.
We pulled into an established site on Magoun Island to finish our first day. The setting was incredible, with a huge bald eagle commandeering a large tree at the entrance to the cove. He was very visible despite being almost 1/2 mile away. Ethan had me so impressed with his mastery of hanging a bear bag, that it became a Kodak moment.
Day 2 would be our day of decision, with two different mileage options, depending on circumstances. We reached Olga Point, a fork in the water, and made the bold choice to go the longer, more scenic route around Hallack Island. It was a glorious day with almost zero signs of civilization. Conditions can change quickly while roaming the sea and today would unveil choppy seas, wind in our faces and at our backs, changing currents and crystal, glassy waters. At the southern end of Hallack Island sits a beautiful kayak campsite. End to a perfect day, Ethan executed another bear bag trick. Dinner was devoured and life was being enjoyed in backwaters Alaska.
Day 3 we slipped out of our idyllic cove and into Sitka Sound. A short but scenic route would complete our loop. As we cruised along the shoreline, admiring the vast life attached to and floating within a few feet of the shore, we stroked past our first kayak-bound travelers. With the sound of pebbles grinding the underside of my vessel, the journey had come to an end. Less than one-half hour after exiting the kayaks,, conditions quickly deteriorated. The safe return of two adventurers and a 230 day supply of Parmesan Cheese.
Ethan gazing at Annahootz